First published in the Sept. 24 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
By City News Service
A man described by a prosecutor as a sexually motivated serial killer was sentenced on Monday to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole for murdering two women in the 1980s, including one in Burbank.
Jurors deliberated about three hours before convicting Horace Van Vaultz Jr., now 67, of two counts of first-degree murder for the July 16, 1981, strangulation of Selena Keough — a 21-year-old mother who was killed in San Bernardino County and dumped under bushes in Montclair — and the June 9, 1986, asphyxiation of Mary Duggan, a 22-year-old Reseda resident whose body was found in the trunk of her car in an empty parking lot in Burbank.
The nine-man, three-woman panel also found true the special-circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during a rape involving both women and murder during sodomy involving Keough.
Vaultz, who was convicted last month of both murders, testified in his own defense and denied any involvement in the killings.
The case marked the first criminal prosecution in Los Angeles County involving investigative genetic genealogy, in which detectives access commercial DNA databases, load DNA material from the crime and find a relative’s match that can point toward a suspect and collect their DNA, then-Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said at the time.
“When you get past the shock of hearing your daughter is dead, you wonder who is out there that did this,” Duggan’s mother, Maureen, said in a statement read in court by Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman at the sentencing.
“Then you just miss her so much, every day, at every family gathering and holiday … You don’t think of who after so many years. It’s one thing that your child dies at only 22 years old. It’s a whole other thing to know she suffered in dying at the hands of a monster.”
Keough’s sister, Sabrina Plourde, said it was difficult to sit through Vaultz’s trial.
“I didn’t know how bad it was until I came to court,” she said of hearing the graphic details of what happened to her sister.
She urged the judge to impose the “strongest punishment” available on Vaultz.
Also in court were the parents and brother of Janna Rowe, a 25-year-old woman whose murder Vaultz had been acquitted of decades ago in Ventura County.
The prosecutor noted during Vaultz’s trial that DNA evidence — which now links the defendant to DNA from semen found in Rowe’s body — was not available for testing when Vaultz was acquitted of Rowe’s 1986 killing in Ventura County, noting that he cannot be retried for that crime but the jury could use it as “pattern evidence.”
Rowe’s mother, Marcia Conner, called Vaultz’s latest trial “bittersweet to me,” saying she was thankful for the outcome though her family “has had to live with the knowledge that we would never find justice.”
She said she wanted to “thank everyone involved in solving this case and bringing it to trial” and hoped that the verdict “brings some closure to the families that have suffered through these past long years of heartbreak.”
Vaultz, by then a Bakersfield resident, was arrested during a November 2019 traffic stop by Burbank police in connection with the killings of Keough and Duggan.
Then-Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse credited “more contemporary technology” with helping to identify Vaultz as the suspect.
The prosecutor told jurors in her closing argument the killings were “sexually motivated homicides” that were “committed by the same serial killer between 1981 and 1986,” and she urged jurors to find Vaultz guilty of both killings.
Vaultz has been “unable to explain any of the evidence tying him to the murders in this case,” including DNA evidence found on or in the bodies of each of the women, who were discovered either fully or partially nude, Silverman said.
The prosecutor cited “a ton of evidence” that points “only to the defendant.”
“The defendant chose these victims,” Silverman said. “The defendant is sitting here because he’s a serial killer … a sexual predator.”
The prosecutor urged jurors to “hold him accountable” and to “tell him that his reign of terror ends now.”
The defense lawyer countered that the prosecution “didn’t prove it.”
“If the evidence shows he’s not guilty, which it does, do your duty,” Vaultz’s attorney, Damon Lamont Hobdy, told jurors, urging them to acquit Vaultz of both killings.
While on the stand, Vaultz told jurors he didn’t remember Keough or Duggan and was not responsible for their killings or that of Rowe, whom he admitted he knew.
“My semen means I may have had sex with the person. It doesn’t mean I killed them,” said Vaultz, a former Marine.
“I’m telling you I didn’t kill anyone,” he said, when questioned about DNA evidence.
Vaultz has remained behind bars without bail since his 2019 arrest, telling jurors that he has spent the past two years and nine months “courtesy of the L.A. County jail.”
Burbank Police Sgt. Aaron Kay lauded the initial investigators who handled the Keough and Duggan killings, saying after the verdict Aug. 18 that evidence was preserved when “DNA wasn’t even a thing back in 1986, 1981” but that DNA technology “caught up” by the time he was handed the case to re-investigate it.
He said there were “two times when my heart pounded in this case” — first when he identified Vaultz as a suspect in the killings and then when he was in court to hear the guilty verdict being read.
“It’s been incredible to be able to deliver something to the victims’ families,” the sergeant said.